I’ve mentioned several times on this trip how the feeling of insignificance constantly emerges whenever we go sightseeing. I can still say that the most intense feeling of insignificance was definitely during our trip to see the Redwoods in northern California.
Standing at the foot of these trees and looking up a couple hundred feet with the knowledge that many of these giants existed before Christ is a mind-blowing experience. Seriously, I just stood there several times and couldn’t wrap my head around it. Our existence as human beings is nothing compared to these trees. As we walked around, we talked about the changes of humanity since these trees made their first appearance on Earth. How many human beings have passed the redwoods, looking up in amazement as we did? It’s a crazy concept.
Our first stop was at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Upon entering, there are signs that warn visitors against entering with towed trailers and RV’s. Lucky for us, Bear is small and has big tires so we were able to ride on through without any issues.
Our plans to camp while exploring this area changed when we arrived in Crescent City, CA after dark. We headed to the local Wal-Mart and saw several people camped out in the parking lot, even people with rooftop tents! They were open 24 hours and had a coffee shop inside so ultimately it was an easy decision to make Wal-Mart home for a couple days.
The following day, we drove over to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, a private park with a gondala ride that takes you through the trees. We saw our first billboard for this place around central Oregon and Riley would not stop asking about it. The billboards continued and Riley kept asking, so we promised to take him. When we stopped at the Visitor Center in Crescent City, the lady who worked there said it wasn’t worth visiting, but I disagree.
You can’t miss this place. It’s right on highway 101 and there is a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe at the entrance. The price of admission wasn’t outrageous, but it also helped that Riley got in for free. They are also pet friendly so Jack got to go inside the gift shop and ride the gondola! Overall, we thought it was a fun, touristy place to visit. We enjoyed seeing some of the strange trees and Riley loved the gondola. I think it’s a fun place to check out especially if you have kids.
Next stop, “The Last Free Place” Slab City, California.
After we left Newport, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Driving along I-5, we had so many rest areas to choose from, but highway 101 had nothing. Well, nothing free. We stumbled upon a campsite along the highway that had a few RV’s parked. Initially, we thought we got lucky then saw it cost $30/night. It was really hard to justify spending $30 for a place to park when we just spent $40 on a motel room. I said to Clayton, “I’m pretty sure there’s a casino in Florence, let’s just drive there and see if we can park.”
My parking senses must have been tingling because yes, there was a casino and yes, they offered free RV parking.
We found ourselves at 3 Rivers Casino located a couple miles down highway 26. The casino offers 4 nights of free parking for RV’s and if you obtain a player’s card and gain 100 points, you can have an additional 4 nights. Initially, we thought this was awesome. They offered free coffee, hot chocolate, hot water, and soda. They also had free Wi-Fi and charging stations in the lobby.
When a business offers free parking, we will spend our money there as a way to say thank you. Our first night, we dined at the World Market Buffet. Sounds legit, right? It was a Wednesday and dinner prices were $13.99 per adult. Verdict? The food was terrible. Like fast food, frozen dinner terrible. We probably should have taken a look at the food first, but it was too late to get our money back so might as well get our money’s worth! So I ate, I ate a lot and paid the consequences the next morning.
Our second night, we wanted a beer with dinner so we decided to grab food at the Blue Bills Sports Bar and Taproom. It was around 6:20 when we approached the door and saw a sign that said minors are not allowed inside after 6. We thought that seemed a bit early, but rules are rules, so we headed over next door to Sunset Grille.
The hostess informed us there was a long wait for Sunset Grille then suggested we head next door to Blue Bills. We ask the hostess about the sign and she says “oh they don’t really enforce that unless the band is playing. You can still eat in there”. We returned to the Sports Bar and Clayton went inside first to double check and was given the green light by 2 more employees. We went inside and it was pretty dead. I looked around and noticed that about every patron was over the age of 65. Everyone appeared to be a local since the only waitress chatted with them and asked how their families were doing. The setting looked more innocent than an Applebee’s.
We sat down and I noticed that we weren’t immediately greeted. Clayton walked around to see if we could find a menu somewhere. Finally, our waitress approaches and says “you know you’re past the time limit” and points at Riley. I was taken aback by how rude she was, but we explained that the hostess from Sunset Grille told us to come in and that we double checked with her co-workers. She responds, “well, they told you wrong. I just want to let you know that.” WTF? Should we leave then? We sat there in silence, but she goes ahead and asks about our drinks. I assume at this point, it’s okay for us to stay. Since I wanted a beer, I ask what beers they have on tap since they advertise craft beers. She quickly rambles off a list of 5 beers, “coors, coors light, bud light…” and doesn’t even mention the craft beers. I let out a laugh because she was obviously not in the mood to help us.
We ask for water and time to look at our menu which subsequently turns our bitchy waitress into Flash Gordon. She immediately brings the waters and asks what we’re ordering. We ask again for more time and not even kidding, I read 2 items off the menu and she’s back! I can’t even tell you what kind of food this place serves if you asked me.
It was obvious we weren’t welcome there and she was making it clear that she wanted us out. I order the fish and chips, and mac and cheese for Riley. I tell Clayton that we should just share because I was no longer in the mood to spend money there. Clayton gets up to look at the craft beers on tap and I tell him to buy beer at Safeway and to get our food to go. I don’t appreciate people being disrespectful to me and my family.
We had dinner in the trailer and I hate to say it, but the fish and chips were delicious.
The next day, we headed over to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and checked out the beach. It seemed like a cool place to ride the dunes in the summer time. We just ran around and took pictures until it started to rain.
Coos Bay was such a memorable part of our Oregon adventure. We found free camping at Bastendorff Beach and it was unbelievable. Seriously, we had a million dollar view for free. There is a bit of a downside to this area: it is rarely patrolled and there are many permanent residents here aka homeless folks. But really, we didn’t have a problem and found the homeless people to be pretty nice. We even left our stuff unattended and no one touched it! I think this is an amazing spot for scenic boondocking.
I’ll just let the pictures tell the story:
We also stopped at a brewery called 7 Devils Brewing Company. They had vegetarian poutin with giant pieces of cheese curds. I still dream about this dish!
I can’t remember the exact town or beach we took the following pictures. It was really south, going back towards California. On our drive, the rain stopped and when the sun peaked through the clouds, it created the most beautiful golden light. It was too good not to photograph, so enjoy the ending to our Oregon adventure…
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
California is a place loved by many. Residents and visitors alike can go on for hours about the wonders of the Golden State and the various activities available for all. Many flock to the state each year, soaking up the sun, the beaches, and the mountains. It’s a paradise for city folks and nature lovers. When I tell people I grew up in California (SF Bay Area to be exact), I’m often told “Lucky you. It’s beautiful there.” And that’s usually followed up by, “why did you leave?” Now that, that is a long story. A quick synopsis would be something along the lines of: it’s too crowded, it’s too expensive, I’m afraid of earthquakes, we have family drama. Bottom line: California creates a ton of anxiety for both myself and my husband. As we made our way towards the coast, I said to Clayton “my chest hurts, I’m feeling anxious.” He nodded and said he was feeling the exact same way.
And that is where the Alain de Botton quote comes in. We had to change our mindset. I was certain this wouldn’t be the last time we’d feel uncomfortable while traveling. We had to come up with a plan, something we could revert to when we feel like this again. At that moment, we decided that a pep talk before hitting the road would get us through our travels in California. We’d discuss worst case scenarios and how we would handle them…”there’s going to be a lot of traffic. That’s okay, we’ll just talk about something fun and listen to the radio”, “gas is going to be very expensive. That’s okay, at least it will be cheaper when we visit other states”, “we might encounter negativity from our families. That’s fine, we can always leave if it gets bad.”
As salty as I was feeling (pun intended), I knew that everything was worse in my mind and if I approached this anxiety differently, everything would be fine. Why am I sharing this story? I like the quote above, and I feel it’s something we can all relate to. When we travel, I find that most of us will accentuate the negative like it needs to be paired with the positive. Think about it… when asking someone about a trip they’ve been on, they usually name the bad parts. “It was too hot”, “it was too cold”, “my flight got delayed and they lost my bags, I was so pissed”, “I got a million mosquitos bites, it was terrible”, “the food sucked”, “the people were rude”, and so on. I’ve recently started to notice this much more because when we tell people about places we want to visit, we often hear: “oh, I didn’t like it there…” (fill in the blank with specific reason), or “watch out, people are really racist there.” My thoughts are, we should try to cut down on the negativity and try to keep an open mind. In my case, I eventually saw the beauty in a place that makes me anxious. I took the bad parts and realized it was part of the experience. Travel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, there are also hard times and that’s okay. That being said, I’m currently working on saying “California is a definitely an experience everyone should have” and I’ll follow that with a positive and honest comment like, “I LOVE San Diego!”
Now enough with the chatter. Here’s what we did:
Day 1:Arrived at Pismo Beach after sunset. Found a campground for $30/night with no amenities. Couldn’t justify the price so we headed to the nearest Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had signs everywhere stating that overnight parking was prohibited. We spoke to another RVer who stated that the city is pretty strict with that rule. We went inside and spoke to an employee. The employee stated they usually send people to K-Mart down the street. We headed to K-Mart and no signs were posted. We were exhausted and decided to opt out of asking a K-Mart employee if overnight parking was okay. If we were told no, then we’d have to leave. If we didn’t ask, then we honestly didn’t know. I’d rather get a couple hours sleep and get a knock at our window to leave rather than getting no sleep while trying to find a place.
Day 2:We woke up at 6am and grabbed coffee at Carl’s Jr in the same parking lot. As we were ready to leave, a police officer slowly circled us. I waited for him to wave or come out to talk to us, but he didn’t. He left and so did we. This day was also our wedding anniversary, so we had to do something special. We headed north on Highway 1 and made our way towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle.
I was super excited to see Hearst Castle even though we knew nothing about it. I heard about it growing up in northern California and always heard great things. We arrived at Hearst Castle and saw that the area is a California State Park. The place was busy and they only had port-a-potties due to the drought. We went inside to the information desk and I literally said “sooo.. what is this place all about?” The older man behind the counter laughed and gave us a brief yet in depth history of the castle. He also suggested that we visit the free museum. We headed over to the line at the ticket counter and found the prices for the tour were a bit high. $25 per adult and $12 for children over 5. We were not in the mood to spend $62 on a tour, so we grabbed food at the café then headed to the museum which was fairly empty. If you’re on a budget, skip the tour and head to the museum. It’s full of information and interesting exhibits.
View of castle from Visitors Center
You can look through the free binoculars
pictures from museum
artifacts from museum
picture of a picture!
SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH
We headed across the street to San Simeon State Beach. Beautiful place and dogs are allowed. We played around in the water for a bit. It was November, but it was warm and sunny. We had so much fun that we worked up an appetite, so we headed to our next destination down the street.
HEARST RANCH WINERY/ THE TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S
We walked over to Hearst Ranch Winery/Sebastian’s for some wine tasting to celebrate our anniversary. Wine tasting is $10 per person, but if a bottle is purchased, one tasting is waved. We told the bartender that we intended on purchasing a bottle, so he suggested that we share a tasting to save $10. The tasting room also serves as a café so we also ordered food and Riley went through 4 small cups of ice cream. We had a really great time and the folks at this place were incredibly friendly. We chatted with them for a while and told them about our roadtrip. It was cool to also hear about their travel stories and places they would love to visit. We left with a $32 bottle of Malbec which was half the price of a castle tour! The day ended up being perfect and a very memorable anniversary for us.
WILLOW CREEK ROAD DISPERSED CAMPING/ LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
We headed north on Highway 1 and spent 4 nights at a free campsite with an amazing view of the ocean. We found this spot on freecampsites.net and it was a great find. The only downside was the amount of trash we found scattered in the bushes, but I’ve sadly come to expect that from people these days. Our time at this campsite was AMAZING. We had this incredible view, I couldn’t believe we were camping for free. People pay good money to have a view like this from their hotel room, yet there we were in our homebuilt teardrop, camping for free while watching the sunset on the horizon.
Day 3-7:HIKING-BEACH ACCESS
There are many spots right off the 1 to go hiking. We love finding trails on everytrail.com
Here is a link to a comprehensive list http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california
We took a mini hike behind the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. This trail leads to a small black sand beach that is open to the public, but is known as a “private” beach because it’s hidden and usually empty.I read that beach access north of this point is very rare, so it was a treat to find beach access in Big Sur. Head behind the cafe and you’ll see a warning sign at the start of the nature trail. The rugged trail is steep with switchbacks and drops 300 feet in 1/8th mile. It was a short yet heart pounding hike. I lost my footing a couple times, so I’d recommend a good pair of hiking boots. There were several people looking at the view from the top of the trail, but we were the only ones who hiked it. There was a family dressed in workout clothes at the trailhead, so I thought maybe they were going on a hike, but when their pre-teen kids asked to hike down, they were quickly reprimanded! That kind of gives you an idea of what this trail looks like. It’s definitely not for your average tourist, but it’s totally worth the views and having an entire beach to yourself.
View of steep trail
We found crawdads!
See, I told you California is an experience. Information is below!
*HIGHWAY 1 CAMPSITE – source: freecampsites.net
Willow Creek Rd
Big Sur, California
GPS: 35.886967, -121.45916
Website suggests rigs should not be longer than 30 feet.
Keep an eye out for the Treebones Resort, it’s the same road off Highway 1. Once you make the turn on Willow Springs, turn left for free camping because a right turn takes you towards the resort. You’ll see the National Forest signs with camp rules. We camped on one of the first pull outs up the hill. Initially, we kept driving up the steep hill and realized we lost our great view of the ocean. Turning around with the trailer took a bit of skill, but luckily Bear’s giant tires made it easy to turn around and head back down the hill. I would not recommend this site to big class A’s. You might get stuck!
Here’s a story for the budget conscious traveler. I wanted to share this because I am also very budget conscious… or as some call it, cheap!
To most people, traveling is a very big expense. Sometimes when I daydream about traveling to a faraway place, I’ll goggle it and come across sites with information from travelers who have gone to that location. In the beginning of 2013, I was itching to go to Hawaii, but after some research it felt like an unreachable dream. According to folks on the internet, a Hawaiian vacation for 3 would cost several thousand dollars, and that was money that we definitely did not have.
In February of 2013, I was stressed out and cold. I know most people think it never gets cold in Arizona, but it does. And the cold is bitter and dry. For 5 years, every winter my knuckles would bleed from the dry air. On this day in February, I was driving home from a stressful visit with a client. The dried blood on my cracked knuckles held onto the steering wheel when it suddenly started to snow… in central Phoenix. As cool and exciting as the sight was, I was once again reminded that I was cold and miserable. I was in serious need of a warm getaway before I became a full blown negative Nancy. I decided that we were going to Hawaii and I was going to figure out a way to do it.
Through yet another google search, I found airfare to Honolulu for $600 to $800 RT per person. There was no way in hell I was going to pay that, so I headed to my trusted and favorite site: Hotwire. For past vacations, I had used Hotwire to book 5 star hotels at a cheap rate. I always trusted booking a hotel based on location and ratings, without knowing the name. I’ve never been disappointed using that process and the awareness of how much money I save is always very fulfilling for me. I perused through Hotwire when a notification popped up. If I chose to book a flight without having the information on what time the flight was leaving or what airlines I was taking, I could book a RT flight to Honolulu for $275 per person. The only information provided was the departure and return date. I confirmed the dates with Clayton which happened to coincide with his spring break. I couldn’t pass up the deal so without talking to my manager ahead of time (the flight was 10 days out), I booked the flights. After booking, I got the flight details. We were on Delta and had a connecting flight in LAX. Our layover was approximately 1 hour and the day of the flight, we had no problems!
3 roundtrip tickers from Phoenix to Honolulu including taxes= $825
Next up was our accommodations. To stretch our dollar even further, I looked into renting out condos for our stay through several sites. Unfortunately, since we were booking so last minute, there was no availability anywhere. I also looked into campgrounds and once again, no availability. We had no choice but to settle for booking a hotel. I used Hotwire to book one 3 star hotel the night we arrived. It had terrible reviews, but it was the cheapest available at just under $100. For the next 5 days, I booked a 2 star hotel close to the beach which ended up being amazing compared to the 3 star from the previous night. The 2 star came out to $120/night.
6 nights in a hotel by Waikiki Beach= $700
When we found out that our hotel stay would be almost as expensive as airfare for 3 people, we realized our budget would be tight. We ate out a total of 6 times. Once at a food truck, twice at the International Market, once at a cafeteria style place right outside the beach and twice at a restaurant for dinner. 4 out of the 6 times, Clayton and I shared a plate. For the other meals, we went to the grocery store and got essentials. Having a kitchen in our hotel room helped with storing and cooking food. Our breakfast typically consisted of cereal and before we’d leave the hotel for an outing, I’d stuff my bag with snacks.
Here is the breakdown of what we spent during our trip:
Car rental for 2 days= $40
Parking for 2 nights= $20/night
Dole Pineapple Plantation= $40 spent
Pearl Harbor= $40 spent
Food and Gas= About $350
Total: Just under $2000
Of course, there are downsides to watching your money very closely during a vacation. The main objective of a vacation is to let loose and not worry about those type of things, but we really didn’t have an option. Before we left for Hawaii everybody told us “you have to go to a luau!!” Well turns out luau’s cost around $100 per person and I couldn’t justify spending that much money on food and entertainment for a night. Another downside was the lack of alcohol. Drinks are expensive and once again, it was not worth it. Also, we had to be careful about what we spent at touristy spots. For example, at Pearl Harbor, we skipped several things because there was a separate admission fee. Overall, we spent most of our time at the beach and honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Moral of the story: I love Hotwire and a Hawaiian vacation doesn’t have to cost several thousand dollars. If you’re willing make small sacrifices, you can save a couple dollars!